United States of Beach Volleyball: The best places to play on the sand in every state

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United States of Beach 10/5/2020
Mango's Beach in Baton Rouge, LA

CABO, Mexico — It’s funny, that the idea for this story, The Best Places to Play Beach Volleyball in the United States, would originate outside of the United States.

I was coaching at a South of the Border Volleyball Vacations trip, eating breakfast with a few of the vacationers, who come from literally all over the planet, places you’ve never imagine would have much beach volleyball: Russia, Alaska, Seattle, wherever.

It’s not hard, of course, to understand that there is beach volleyball everywhere. But to find where, in certain places and states, can be a bit difficult. Beach communities can be a tough nut to crack sometimes. You gotta know the right people who know the spots, like Judd Smith in Mississippi, for example, or someone on Twitter who knows someone who lives in Laramie, Wyoming.

A vacationer named Brooke Weitz pitched an idea that someone develop an app, similar to what AllTrails is for hikers: A comprehensive list of the best places to play beach volleyball in every state. Users can upload pictures and post reviews, and, if someone is advanced enough in their coding of this hypothetical app, even arrange practices and meetups.

The idea, I loved. The execution, I could never do.

But I could write something somewhat similar. At the very least, I could cull social media and dig through my own experiences as a beach player to identify the best or most popular or iconic places to play beach volleyball in every state.

I could begin drafting the United States of Beach.

What you’ll find below is my best shot at that list. It’s subjective, and as much as I tried to make it as comprehensive as possible, I’m positive, with 100-percent certainty, that I missed many, and that I’m dead wrong on several. In those cases, let us know, either in the comments of this story or contact me via email (mewhirtert@gmail.com) or social media (@Travis_Mew on Twitter, @Trammew on Instagram).

Heck, there’s a chance this could be developed into a book, one of those 1,000 places to see before you die type deals, only the beach volleyball version.

So enjoy, share it out, provide feedback. And if there are any coders out there who are interested in developing an app, we have an idea for you:

The United States of Beach Volleyball.

Alabama — Gulf Shores

This was, not surprisingly, one of the easier choices to make. There aren’t exactly an abundance of options to play beach volleyball in Alabama, and in any event, there are few options in the entire country that are as beautiful as Gulf Shores.

It’s an unexpected gem, with white sand, teal water and a fun town around it. Beyond that, Gulf Shores is also host to the NCAA Championships, making for a telengenic neutral site to compete for the biggest amateur title in the game.

If you haven’t been, you should, though be warned: It gets windy to the point that slower float serves have been known to actually travel backwards. Other than that, Gulf Shores is a picture-perfect venue for beach volleyball, cheap drinks, and good bar snacks, everything a beach player needs.

Gulf shores-NCAA championships
Wednesday was gorgeous in Gulf Shores as setup was near completion/Eric Bouscher photo

Alaska — Springer Park, Anchorage

An assist must go out to Tom Davenport, he of the splendid SOB Volleyball Vacations that attracts beach volleyball enthusiasts from all over the country, including, yes, Alaska. Geena Urango made the connection for me to reach out to Kale Recaido, a decent player who is currently living in Alaska.

Here’s what he had to say: “Springer Park in Anchorage! Not the most idyllic spot, but the most accesible with the best nets. We always entertain the idea of setting a net up at Kincaid Sand Dunes, which looks over Turnagain Arm, but level ground is hard to come by there.”

So there you have it: Springer Park it is.

Stay warm, folks.

Arizona — Victory Lane Sports Park

My buddy, Kevin Villela, told me I’d get quite a bit of debate on this one. Arizona, that hot and deserty neighbor of Southern California, had far more responses than I expected, though I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Sarah Sponcil hails from there, and the college programs at the University of Arizona and Arizona State are always competitive.

Victory Lane became the choice by virtue of most nominations, and because it hosts a lot of AVP Nexts. Parker Conley, the wizard behind Bounce Beach and an Arizona native, suggested Casteel High School, and Scottsdale Ranch Park was also in the running. GCU, too, has a quality complex.

But Victory Lane is typically host to the most talent on a regular basis.

If you’re looking to play a tournament in the state of Arizona, be sure to check out the Coates and Hoff, which is the longest running tournament in ‘Zona and is now held annually at Gilbert Regional Park. Beachfest, held at WestWorld, where they dump sand into a horse arena, is another tournament to mark on the calendar.

Arkansas — Ozark Volleyball Club

Ozark describes itself as “the premier adult volleyball club in Northwest Arkansas.” It hosts indoor leagues, sand leagues, sand tournaments — a little bit of everything for the volleyball junkie in you.

It is also host to the annual Big Dog Tournament, which had been running for 18 consecutive years prior to COVID (we’ll give you a COVID pass on this one, so your next Big Dog Tournament, in our eyes, will be 19 straight).

California — Manhattan Beach

California is — depending on whom you talk to — the birthplace of beach volleyball. As such, there is an almost-limitless supply of places to play the sport in this gigantic state. Even with that almost-limitless supply, however, determining the No. 1 place to play in this state was quite simple: Manhattan Beach.

It’s difficult to differentiate between the beaches in California. Every one has its own charm — blue-collar Huntington, breathtaking Corona del Mar, old school Laguna, charming Carlsbad, talent-rich Hermosa, breezy and chic Santa Barbara.

But Manhattan is home to the Manhattan Beach Open, the biggest tournament in the world, the one that rivals the Olympics in its prestige. It should be at the top of any beach volleyball bucket list.

You can’t go wrong in California. Be it NorCal’s best, Santa Cruz, or even quiet little Moonlight Beach near San Diego, it’s a can’t-lose state when it comes to this sport.

But if you could only play one, Manhattan Beach, for its history, its iconic place on the sport’s map, is it.

Manhattan Beach Open
Center court during the finals of the 2014 Manhattan Beach Open.

Colorado — Aspen

Given the cold-weather nature of the state, there was significantly more competition for this spot than could have been anticipated. Beach volleyball is a popular sport in Colorado, and indoor sand facilities, such as The Island Oasis, in Denver, and The Lab, in Arvada, have begun to dot the map.

But the most tradition-rich site in Colorado belongs to Aspen, home to The Motherlode, which had been held for 47 straight years prior to COVID. The Motherlode belongs with Seaside, Fuds, Waupaca, and Pottstown on the list of tournaments you must play before your knees say no mas, and even then, you should pop a few Advil to give them a run.

Which makes Aspen the top spot for Colorado.

Amateur volleyball 6/30/2020-The Motherlode
The Motherlode Classic/Bob Blackburn photography

Connecticut — Ocean Beach, New London

Connecticut, as a whole, doesn’t seem rife with places to play beach volleyball, but after some digging and begging on social media, Ocean Beach came up a few times. It seems to be the perfect place for a little family weekend: pretty beach, miniature golf, half-mile long boardwalk with a bunch of little eats and shops. There’s also an Olympic-sized pool and an arcade, so if you’re a mom or dad of a few kiddos and you’re looking to get a few games in while the kids are entertained, Ocean Beach seems to be the spot.

Delaware — Rehoboth Beach

Delaware is a little Atlantic Coast state, and Rehoboth is a teeny, tiny little Atlantic Coast town. There isn’t a ton of volleyball to be played in Delaware, but when there is, it’s usually at Rehoboth, home to the annual First Rites of Summer tournament, where more than 100 nets will go up.

Florida — Fort Walton Beach

The two most difficult states to choose, by far, were Florida and Texas. People are proud of their beach volleyball heritage in the south (and California, too, but most cede that Manhattan is the can’t-miss spot).

As it went with California, many suggested that we split Florida into two states, since there are so many different types of beaches. There’s the Gulf, home to Pensacola; Navarre, where I first learned how to play this game; Fort Walton Beach; and Destin. They are the prettiest beaches you’ll ever see in your life, similar in beauty to Gulf Shores: white sand and teal water, straight out of a postcard.

Then there’s Jacksonville and Daytona, South Beach and Clearwater, Deerfield and St. Petersburg. All have their own charm, their own unique flair. There’s no right answer here, but we decided on Fort Walton Beach because it hosts the best four-man tournament of the year with its bi-annual Fuds.

Twice a year — once in the spring, and then again in October — hundreds of nets will spring up, and there will be every type of volleyball you can possibly imagine: co-ed, women, men, young and old, professional players and novices, clowning-around drunks and intense win-at-all-costs.

It’s a blast, and a tournament you should look into if you love this sport. But Fort Walton Beach is also just a unique place to play. You don’t get sand like that anywhere else in the world — sugar white and deep as Hermosa. The vibe is incredible, located right on the boardwalk, with a smattering of cheap bars and restaurants to pop in and out of.

Fuds
The main attraction at Fuds is the quads tournament.

Georgia — Georgia State University

Considering that Georgia has a good stretch of land on the East Coast, you might think that a natural beach would be the No. 1 place to play. Not quite.

Georgia State, a consistent top-15 program in NCAA beach volleyball, has an awesome setup, directly in the heart of Atlanta. The sand is great, the backdrop is photogenic, and there are lights, which create such a great atmosphere for college beach matches.

Georgia coach Tom Black has been working for a while to get beach volleyball sponsored as an NCAA sport by the Bulldogs, which would make for one heck of a fun rivalry in a sport that could use a few more.

Hawai’i — Queen’s Beach

If you were to listen only to Tri Bourne, and the Crabb and McKibbin brothers — as well as Stein Metzger and Kevin Wong — you’d hear a chorus of young men pulling for the Outrigger Canoe Club as the best spot on the Island.

Yes, Outrigger has perhaps as much tradition as any beach in the world — it is argued by locals to be the birthplace of beach volleyball; no one tell Sinjin Smith — but it’s also exclusive, members only.

Queen’s Beach is not.

Queen’s is deep, breezy, breathtaking in beauty, and also open to whoever wants to play some ball, should they have their own net. It is host to the University of Hawai’i’s many tournaments, and an absolute must-play beach for any volleyball enthusiast.

It is not, however, host to the best tournament on the Island. The best tournament isn’t even hosted on the same Island. The famous Dino, where a team’s age must combine to be over 80 years old, is hosted annually on Kalapaki Beach on Kauai.

So do some Island hopping: Warm up at Queen’s, which is in the heart of Oahu, and then pop on over to Kauai for the Dino.

Tal Shavit-Dinosaur photo gallery 3/19/2020
Tal Shavit goes over the block of Eric Fonoimoana at the 2020 Dinosaur tournament in Kau’ai, Hawai’i/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Idaho — North Idaho College (NIC) Beach

The beach volleyball site at North Idaho College was the lone nominee in the Potato State (I don’t know if that’s its actual moniker but Idaho hosts the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl every year in college football so that’s what I call it).

There isn’t much to go off of, other than a few pictures, which do look beautiful — with very, very jumpy sand — and a man named Levi Taylor claiming on Twitter that NIC Beach is the best place to play in the state “by a long shot.”

So there you have it: NIC Beach it is.

Illinois — North Avenue Beach

In a few years, this might have to be amended, as it’s possible that there could no longer even be a North Avenue Beach. In 2019, the AVP had to cut the field down for the Chicago event, as water levels had gotten so high that the courts were being washed out. Hopefully that’s not the case, as North Ave., and its neighbor, Oak Street, are one of the coolest places to play beach volleyball, with a stunning view of Chicago in the background.

It’s why AVP Chicago was Eric Zaun’s favorite stop of the year — “Morale is so high in the summers in Chicago.”

If you’re seeking a tournament — aside from AVP Chicago — the annual Big Dig in early August should be the one on your calendar.

AVP Chicago-beach volleyball
Caitlin Ledoux sets Xi Zhang against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Indiana — iBeach31

iBeach31 claims to be the first outdoor beach volleyball venue in Westfield, Indiana. I admit that I didn’t do a whole lot of fact checking on it, but seeing as there were no other nominations for Indiana, I’m not going to doubt it, either.

iBeach31 has six professional level sand courts, with lights, so you can enjoy the always-fun Friday Night Lights volleyball. They run tournaments, leagues, clinics — anything you’d want, iBeach31 appears to have it. They even offer team building workshops for businesses and companies.

Iowa — Volley’s, Cedar Rapids

Iowa wouldn’t be the first place to come to mind when thinking beach volleyball, but check out this complex, called Volley’s, in Cedar Rapids!

It’s huge!

I don’t know how many courts there are, exactly, but take a look at the YouTube video below: There’s plenty.

Volley’s has been up and running for 30 years, so happy anniversary to them. And they run tournaments with names like the Spikin’ Ninja, the Madhatter, Bar Wars, and Be Aware of the Claw.

So if you’re looking for a good time, it seems Volley’s is a decent place to check out.

There is another venue, too, in Iowa, this one just across town in Marion. It’s called Oasis Sandbar — at this rate, in a few years, there might be an Oasis in every state — and it hosted the state’s first AVP Next this past summer, boasting a purse of $5,000 that drew in some decent talent.

Currently, Oasis has 10 courts, under some legit lighting, and it has designs on growing to 19 — 19! — courts.

Iowa may soon become a regular feature on the beach volleyball schedule.

Kansas — Shawnee Mission Beach Volleyball

With 18 courts, Shawnee Mission Beach Volleyball is the largest sand facility in the Kansas City area. Really, with 18 courts, it makes Shawnee one of the largest facilities anywhere. It seems like they need all those courts, too, with leagues going six nights a week and tournaments filling out the weekend schedule.

Beyond that, there’s a full bar, with 10 TVs — one of which is an 80-inch big screen — and it’s open until midnight most nights.

Kentucky — 6-pack Volleyball, Louisville

Louisville seems to be the hotbed for all things volleyball when it comes to the state of Kentucky. It has two of the three nominated places to play, which are 6-Pack Volleyball, and Baxter Jacks, both of which, hilariously, dub themselves the “PREMIERE” — all caps — place to play beach volleyball in the state of Kentucky.

Whether one or the other truly is the “premiere” place to play, both are legitimate options. 6-Pack has both indoor and outdoor courts, so you can play there year-round, which is why it got the nod as the No. 1 place to play.

Baxter Jacks — great name, by the way — has been around since 1991, so happy early 30th. It began with one beach court and now has three, all of which are under the lights. It also hosted an AVP, as well as a four-man tour event, so it has some street cred for sure.

Morehead State, to its credit, did make a late push for the top spot in Kentucky, bribing everyone on Twitter with free Fazoli’s Breadsticks if they play there. Nothing says Kentucky beach volleyball like a beach volleyball complex named Fazoli’s Breadstick Beach!

Late — better late than never! — nomination came in for perhaps the best name of any beach facility in the world: The Blind Squirrel, in Louisville. That’s the name of the restaurant, anyway. The beach site is called King Louie’s, which is still a decent name. This place looks freaking cool, guys. It has six courts, an amphitheater for a neat viewing and playing experience — similar to Baltimore Beach, but better, it seems — and there are courts under a tent as well, to play in inclement weather.

Louisiana — Mango’s Beach Volleyball

Louisiana is one of the most pleasantly surprising beach-rich volleyball cultures in the country, both in terms of talent and sheer numbers. It’s home to one of the best beach volleyball teams in the nation with LSU, and it produces a fair amount of open-level talent who hold their own in qualifiers.

If you begin in New Orleans, you can drive for 30 minutes in basically any direction and come across a beach volleyball facility. There’s Coconut Beach, an enormous complex that hosted a few very wet and wild AVPs. Down the street is White Sands, and a little further down from there is Digs. Not too far from any of them is the new Oasis.

But none can top the quality of Mango’s. It is far and away the best, deepest sand I’ve played on that isn’t Manhattan or Hermosa. The vibe is phenomenal, with a fun little restaurant and bar that permits individuals to imbibe while remaining family friendly.

There’s a reason the Tigers used Mango’s as their home site before they got their own on-campus courts built.

I’d argue Mango’s is not just the best place to play in Louisiana, but probably the best man-made beach volleyball facility in the country.

LSU’s Claire Coppola during the 2018 season when the Tigers played at Mango’s/LSU athletics

Maine — Fern Gully

When I put out calls for the best places to play in each state, Maine had by far my favorite response. Evidently, there’s an older couple living in Fern Gully who built a beach volleyball court in their backyard, and it has since become the iconic place to play in Maine.

“I assure you, this place is one of a kind,” Joe Robitaille wrote on Twitter. “This is the older couple’s backyard and started as a grass court. Everything built by hand and thousands of dollars worth of supplies including sand went into it. Court was built in the 80’s.”

Eric Gagnon chimed in: “Yes!! I played there when I was a kid. It’s turned into the Mecca of VB. The story behind this place is amazing as well.”

I plan on digging into that story at some point, but for now, if you’re in Maine, take a look at Fern Gully pictured below.

Maryland — Ocean City

Baltimore, Maryland, remains host to one of the most important beach volleyball tournaments in the sport’s Olympic history: Host of the 1996 Olympic trials, where Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes emerged alongside Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh. How Baltimore was selected to host the trials, I don’t know, but when the courts are in good shape — as I’m sure they were in ’96 — it’s a really cool setup. Right off the Inner Harbor, it’s a beautiful place to play beach volleyball, and you can’t walk 10 steps without the opportunity to have some of the best crabs of your life (not biased, promise).

Sadly, however, the courts are not exactly in Olympic trial shape any longer. Across the harbor is actually a neat little spot called the Sandlot that is far better, and you can enjoy all the Natty Bohs you can stomach.

But the No. 1 spot in my home state is Ocean City. I believe that beach volleyball is meant to be played, primarily, on natural beaches, and Ocean City is a cool one. The boardwalk next to the courts goes for miles, with all kinds of shops and eats and fun things to do. The sand is deep (also very hot, so wear sand socks) and the atmosphere is lively. It hosted three AVPs and, in 2015, an NVL, which was won by a seriously sandbagging Q5-seeded team of Rafu Rodriguez and Eric Haddock.

Massachusetts — Carson Beach

A cursory Google search will tell you that Carson Beach is known more for a few racially charged events than it is for beach volleyball — but hey, there is still beach volleyball in South Boston.

But it’s a natural beach, on three miles of Boston’s shoreline of the Dorchester Bay. With three miles, you can put up plenty of nets, as they do sometimes during the summer, enough that a writer named Bill Brett quipped “Carson Beach in South Boston looked more like Santa Monica, California’s beaches near the Pier, with scores of teams participating in the Carson Beach Volleyball Tournament hosted by Social Boston Sports, with a portion of the entry fees going to support the Volo City Kids Foundation that funds young sports.”

Michigan — Grand Haven

Michigan received one of the more interesting responses to my query on social media. A number of individuals simply pointed to the west side of the state, which features Grand Haven, Muskegon, and Holland State Park. All three are on the enormous Lake Michigan, so all are certainly excellent places to play.

As far as tradition goes, however, there is little arguing against Grand Haven, which hosted seven AVPs, from 1990-1997, skipping 1995. Karch Kiraly was the king of Grand Haven, winning five of those tournaments — four with Kent Steffes and one with Brent Frohoff.

Muskegon, too, played host to the AVP, featuring five tournaments, the last of which came in 2009, where Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser won gold.

So if you’re looking for beach volleyball in Michigan, simply head west, and you’ll run into a decent place to play.

Minnesota — Lake Calhoun

For Minnesota, I consulted the Executive Board of my new made-up Minnesota Nice Guys Beach Volleyball Association (MNGBVA), Stafford Slick and a good player from Minnesota you’ll never be able to guess.

Both members of the MNGBVA pointed to Lake Calhoun, which has been renamed to Bde Maka State Park — it’s 2020, this is not made up — as the best sand in the state. With 401 acres, it’s the largest lake in the state, and is home to all kinds of outdoor activities, as well as an excellent view of Minnesota.

Also, ahem, Wirth mentioning here is Wirth Lake Beach, Mama G’s in Maple Grove, Drkula’s Pub in Inver Grove Heights and, of course, my personal favorite, Brian Bomgren’s Backyard in an undisclosed location.

Mississippi — Bulldog Beach

A quick story.

When I moved to Florida, a wiry, tattooed man named Judd Smith saw me play beach volleyball for the first time.

“Let me get my hands on you,” he told me after a co-ed fours tournament at a little beach bar called Juana’s Pagodas. “Let me work with you.”

Judd was my first coach. And over the next year and a half I lived in Florida, he helped instill in me a passion for this game that has since changed the course of my life. Throughout, I helped him build his first beach facility, a beautiful three-court spot just off the Gulf Coast that he dubbed Bulldog Beach (he’s a Mississippi guy, so he loves bulldogs, and owns one of the ugliest pups I’ve ever seen; his name is Tonka).

Shortly after I moved to California, Judd moved closer to home, in Meridian, Mississippi, with his new wife, Kim, and a vision: He was going to build the best beach volleyball complex in Mississippi, right in his backyard.

Which is what he did.

He’s a handy guy, ole Judd. Within a few weeks, he had three perfectly groomed and flat courts at his house, and six more down the road. He’s now hosting bona fide tournaments, coaching juniors, building Bulldog Beach into a household name in the Gulf Coast beach community.

The backyard spots seem to be the way to go down South. In Brandon, Mississippi, there’s also three courts at a private house that’s called King Beach. It has a Facebook group, too, if you live close by, or are stopping through and want to get a few games in.

Missouri — P4:13

At first glance, the name of this beach volleyball club sounds like the next in the line of terminator movies. It is, however, a reference to Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

P4:13 is the first beach-only club in the Kansas City region, producing Allison Coens, who signed with LSU to become the first athlete from Missouri or Kansas to compete on a beach-only scholarship.

There are two courts at the facility, and founder and coach Eric Scherfenberg offers a variety of different ways through which to use it — sand plyometrics, strength training, doubles training, clinics, camps.

Montana — Rose Park, Billings

If you’re in Montana, I think your time is probably best used on camping or hiking. However, if beach volleyball is what you’re set on doing, I’m told that Rose Park, in Billings, the largest city in the state, is as good a spot as any.

It’s a state park that includes swimming, tennis, baseball, basketball, soccer, BBQs, a rec center, and, of course, beach volleyball (there are also lots of trails).

Information is fairly limited on the beach volleyball side of things, but if you’re in Montana, and you have a beach volleyball itch that must be scratched, Rose Park is your spot.

Nebraska — Spikes

Lincoln, Nebraska is home to one of the perennial powers in indoor volleyball. The Huskers have sold out every home match at the Bob Devaney Sports Center since 2001.

But there’s beach volleyball, too! You can find some sand not too far from campus over at Spikes, which is, as most landlocked sites go, a beach volleyball bar and grill. There are leagues and tournaments that can be played under the lights at its 12 outdoor beach volleyball courts.

And, because this is Lincoln, there are also four indoor courts as well. Whatever your volleyball fix may be, Spikes has it.

Nevada — Zephyr Cove, Lake Tahoe

This was a tough one. While the most iconic place to play is certainly Las Vegas, former home of the popular King of the Beach tournaments — Caesar’s Palace hosted — you can’t just build your own sand courts at Caesar’s on a whim, as the AVP is able to do.

No need to build your own courts at Zephyr Cove, which is right off stunning Lake Tahoe. There are courts already there, with lines down and everything. Tahoe may be one of the most beautiful places on the planet — the Strip, while entertaining to be sure — cannot say the same. If you have the opportunity to check out Lake Tahoe, you should take it.

New Hampshire — Hampton Beach

Hampton is one of the nicest, best-kept secrets on the East Coast. USA Volleyball used to host some junior tournaments there, but it has been mostly devoid of nationwide pull. Regardless, it’s a lovely little spot, one that players should consider visiting — even if not to play any volleyball — after an early exit from New York, or if they just want to stick around for a bit after New York.

New Jersey — Atlantic City

New Jersey will always have a special place in the hearts of Road Dogs, for it was the proving grounds of the most iconic Road Dog in beach volleyball: Eric Cookie Robinson Danny Fahrenheit Midnight Verde Lamb Rivermore Greenhouse Zaun.

One of his favorite tournaments of all time was Big Shots, hosted annually in Atlantic City. It was the beginning of what he loved to call “Season endin’ bendin'” because it typically occurred immediately after the close of the AVP season, when players could let loose a little, or lotta, bit.

It’s a great venue for a beach volleyball tournament, in every way possible. Atlantic City is a natural beach with unlimited net space, where there’s plenty of trouble to get into after the tournament (should that be your move) and good clean-cut fun options as well.

There are other places to play in Jersey, of course, Point Pleasant being one of the tops. But Atlantic City is No. 1, and Big Shots is a tournament you should play.

Eric Zaun-Tim Bomgren-AVP partnerships
Eric Zaun loved playing in Atlantic City/Stephen Burns, Pacific Northwest photography

New Mexico — Stoneface Courts, Albuquerque

The Sandia Classic, held annually in Albuquerque, has been one of the longest-running high-level tournaments in the country. This year made it 14 straight tournaments, and while the field wasn’t quite as strong as usual — typically it will pull AVP professionals down to New Mexico, though it must be mentioned that Jorge Martinez is the Kingpin of this event — it ran nonetheless, and it’s for a good cause, too.

Using entry fees and money raised from auctioning off items, such as jerseys and balls signed by players like Sean Rosenthal, Taylor and Trevor Crabb, the Classic donates to the New Mexico Cancer Center Foundation, a nonprofit organization that serves cancer patients who receive care at their New Mexico centers.

So, not only are the Stoneface Courts the best place to play in New Mexico, it’s home to the best tournament in New Mexico.

New York — Central Park

This was one of the more difficult spots to pick, given the diversity of the options. There is Ontario Beach, which is way up in Rochester — but it’s a natural beach, and you know by now how I feel about natural beaches. It’s on the shore of Lake Ontario and features six courts, among a host of other amenities: BBQs, the occasional live concert, pavilions, restaurants, the works.

But — and correct me if I’m wrong here — when people think of New York, they think of New York. The Concrete Jungle. The Empire State. We’re not thinking the border of Canada.

Which is why I — with the help of others on social media — have chosen Central Park. It’s one of the most iconic spots in the city, a beautiful, green reprieve surrounded by those impossibly huge buildings. It also draws, from what I hear, a fair amount of talent, and, of course, the accompanying New York attitude, so it’s best to come prepared.

AVP New York
AVP New York with the skyline in the background/AVP photo

North Carolina — Captain Bills Backyard BBQ, Wilmington

While 2020 was a rough year for most beach volleyball facilities and venues, Captain Bill’s seemed to thrive. Adam Roberts rotated between playing at his home court in Myrtle Beach and Captain Bill’s for much of the year, and he raved about it. With how many places Roberts has played — I’d bet he’s competed on more beaches than any active professional player — if he says it’s a good spot, then it’s a good spot.

Captain Bill’s has 10 courts, replete with everything you’d want at your beach facility: leagues, tournaments, bar, food, lights, event hosting. It’s also home to some legitimate talent. Angel Dache and Kevin Knight are two of the better players currently living in ACC country, and Dache, in particular, is a name you should take note of. This “season” he’s done well with Bruno Amorim, unloading a heavy, heavy jump serve to win the AVP Next Gold in Atlantic City while also making a good run in Waupaca with young Kaleb Jenness.

If you’re in the Carolinas, Cap’n Bill’s is your spot.

North Dakota — Pioneer Park, Bismark

What North Dakota lacks in beach volleyball options, well, it does not atone for in creatively produced promotional videos. The only nominee for North Dakota, land of the most dominant college football program in the country — I’ll fight for North Dakota State all day, any day — was Pioneer Park, in Bismark.

As you can see in the video below, the beach volleyball courts are exactly what you’d expect from a beach volleyball court in a public park in a state that’s frigid the vast majority of the year.

But there is beach volleyball! And that’s all we’re looking for here. There are two courts, and it appears there’s enough room for any size of game you’d want to put together: fours, sixes, twos. Heck, there’s even a ref stand!

Go Bison.

Ohio — Grand Sands, Loveland

If you read my piece after an epic, one-day, 48-team double-elimination tournament held at Grand Sands in late August, you’ll know how I feel about midwest beach volleyball. Ohio is an unexpected pocket of beach volleyball talent and enthusiasm. There are loads of facilities in the area, including the new Sandbox in Cleveland.

But No. 1 must go to Grand Sands. It’s up there with Mango’s in New Orleans as the best man-made site in the United States. The sand at Grand Sands is medium depth — not deep like Mango’s, but not shallow like most other man-made spots. There are 14 total courts, seven inside, seven outside, all of which are in pretty good shape.

It hosts a few high-level tournaments every year, including an AVP Next Gold and the Midwest Championships, which brought in excellent fields for both.

Really, you can’t go too wrong playing beach volleyball in Ohio, but if there’s one place to play, Grand Sands is it.

Late entry: A hidden gem in Ohio is Chillicothe Outdoor Volleyball Association. Founded in 1992 by three guys, the courts were build in the backyard of a man named Paul Tanedo, who still hosts a league every Thursday evening for 12 weeks out of the year. COVA also gives back to the community, donating $ per player per week in what is known as COVA dough.

Courtney Baleiko-Grand Sands-Beach volleyball

Oklahoma — Pearl Beach, Tulsa

Like any other landlocked state, Oklahoma’s top nominees were both bars that feature beach volleyball courts. Pearl Beach, in Tulsa, was the most-recommended, and the place does look every type of awesome. It’s your classic beach bar, with plenty of social leagues — sixes, fours, even the occasional standard doubles — and tournaments.

In tandem, of course, with the beach volleyball, are trivia and taco nights, enough beers on tap to make the hoppiest of your friends pleased, and various other side games to keep you entertained — Spikeball, corn hole, the works.

Also receiving nominations was the Lighthouse Beach Bar, which, to someone who hasn’t played at either bar, is virtually indiscernible. I’ll drop both venues’ promotional videos below so you can decide for yourselves.

Oregon — Seaside

This proved to be the single easiest choice in the entire United States. There is no doubting, nor will there likely be any debate, that Seaside is the best place, and tournament, to play in the state of Oregon.

The courts go on, and on, and on, and onandonandon. Forever and ever. I’ve never seen anything quite like Seaside. The beach itself is beautiful, with lush, green mountains providing the backdrop to what is an enormous beach.

As for the tournament, it’s a bucket-lister. Adam Roberts has played in virtually every tournament there is to play in the United States, and he will practically never miss a Seaside Open.

It has the best center court in all of volleyball. The tournament directors get bulldozers to build up enormous dunes of sand for fans to put their chairs on. The announcing is always on point, music rocking, drinks flowing, morale high.

Play Seaside.

amateur volleyball tournaments 6/30/2020-Seaside volleyball tournament
Noah Cohen spikes as Moses and Elijah Timofeyev defend at the 36th annual Seaside tournament/Stephen Burns, Pacific Northwest Photography

Pennsylvania — Pottstown

We’re cheating! Ok, Pottstown, home to the legendary Pottstown Rumble, is not a beach volleyball tournament, nor is it a place to play beach volleyball.

But it’s just too good to ignore.

Pottstown is a must for any volleyball player, beach or otherwise. Before COVID, it had been held 29 years in a row — 29 years! It’s big enough that many professional beach players will actually skip AVP Seattle, which typically conflicts with the Rumble, to go play grass. Or, if they don’t skip Pottstown, they’ll fetch a Friday red-eye and bolt to make it in time, a la Avery Drost and Eric Zaun circa 2017.

Is it beach? No. But it’s still a must.

Rhode Island — Newport

Fun fact: Newport is known mostly for America’s Cup, an annual sailing regatta, and a string of Gilded Age mansions along Bellevue Avenue. It’s filled with coastline activities, and while the more popular ones seem to be hiking, biking, golf, tennis, and, I kid you not, bird watching, there is beach volleyball to be played there.

There are beach leagues in Newport, and AVP America runs tournaments there — on a natural beach! — so there are legitimate ones to play. There’s also something called the Tournament of Champions, which is a pretty great name that, if you’re an East Coaster, you should check out.

South Carolina — Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach was, for a few years, the unexpected training grounds of a few little-known kids named Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena. Discovered by beach veteran and talent-finder Adam Roberts, Dalhausser and Lucena moved up to Myrtle to train and learn the life of a professional beach volleyball player.

They won AVP Austin before deciding to move out to Santa Barbara to train with Todd Rogers, Sean Scott, and Dax Holdren.

Myrtle, while obviously not the mecca that is the South Bay of California, is a legitimate place to play, especially if Roberts is in town. He’ll find you any game you need. It’s a magnificent area, with a great beach, though there aren’t a ton of tournaments to play over there.

Still: Good sand, natural beach, decent talent.

What else do you need?

Adam Roberts
Adam Roberts/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

South Dakota — Digz Volleyball, Sioux Falls

The layout of this place is flat out cool. There are five courts at Digz, with a patio and bar area splitting it down the middle. But there are also beach courts, grass courts — “you name it,” their website says, “we play it.”

The website is solid, too, even including a “matchmaker” section, which reads like a free agent roster, off which someone can pluck their next partner.

Digz has been up and running since 2009, and recently added beach leagues, five days a week, to the list of activities.

Tennessee — Hyden Beach, Nashville

Small sample size for Hyden Beach, as the place just got up and running in June, but with six courts, all with lights, and John Hyden’s signature of approval, it’s enough to make a quick jump to the No. 1 spot in Tennessee.

He’s hosting tournaments virtually every weekend, and could be a training spot for USA’s national teams to prep for the Tokyo humidity next summer. Not a bad start for the new facility.

Vollis Beach, in Hermitage, must also be mentioned. It has a handful of good-looking courts and a huge credit must be given to Vollis for sponsoring a number of players in the Southeast.

EDIT: Probably the biggest whiff on my part in the original version of this story is missing Nashville Beach. Founded in 1990, it has been around for 30 years and is the very foundation of Tennessee beach volleyball community. Per founder Janice Reese, it actually began as a prototype to work with the city to expand the sport of beach volleyball for players to have a place to play. It’s still going strong, and provided help to Hyden when he launched his own facility.

Texas — Sideliners, San Antonio

Texas received more nominations than any state in the country — more than Florida and California. People seem to be proud of their home facilities down there, as they should be. Texas has some of the coolest places to play, and while Sideliners in San Antonio is going to take the top spot to play in the Lonestar State, you really can’t go wrong.

Aussies Grill and Beach Bar, in Austin, is excellent, as is Wooly’s Beach down the road. Over in Houston, Third Coast Volleyball received a lot of love. With the sheer volume of places to play, it’s no wonder that Texas is producing tons of legitimate talent on the beach — Steve Roschitz and Pete Connole are two names you should know if you don’t already.

Whether the AVP continues going back to Krieg Fields or not for its annual Texas stop, who knows, but Texas and beach volleyball belong together.

Phil Dalhausser-AVP Austin-Nick Lucena
Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena after winning AVP Austin/AVP photo

Utah — Wasatch Beach, Salt Lake City

Something funky is going on with Wasatch Beach and the venue in which it normally plays, but regardless: Prior to this weird split, Wasatch was recommended by a number of Utes, and has been one of the best places to play in Utah over the past decade.

It hosts a full tournament schedule in non-COVID years, and has leagues as well. Plus, it’s in Salt Lake City, one of the best-kept secret gems in the United States.

Vermont — Green Mountain Volleyball

In Vermont, you’ll find some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. As for volleyball? There isn’t much — but Green Mountain Volleyball is an option. There appears to be more grass volleyball than beach, but Williston Central School does have sand courts.

So if you’re in Vermont in the summer, and the slopes are closed, and you’ve done all your hiking for the day, Williston Central School has your beach volleyball fix.

Virginia — Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach belongs high up on the “most underrated beaches in America” power rankings. When thinking of East Coast beaches, most, understandably, point to the East side of Florida, the Carolinas, or the boujee spots near New York and New Jersey.

But Virginia Beach belongs up there with the best of them. It’s quiet — do not expect an Atlantic City vibe here — and nice, with a lovely little boardwalk and a cool town. The beach is also great, with decent sand — albeit a bit shallow — and almost always breezy conditions.

It’s also host to one of the better tournaments on the East Coast with the East Coast Surf Championships, which combines, as you may have guessed, beach volleyball with surfing into a big festival of sports and libations.

Kim Hildreth-Virginia Beach
Kim Hildreth digs a ball in the women’s NVL Virginia Beach final/Ed Chan, VBshots.com photo

Washington — Alki Beach

Fun fact: Alki Beach is the the site of the landing of the first white settlers in Seattle in November of 1851. Chief Seattle and his tribe greeted them and helped them build their cabin to stave off the cold, wet winter. So when you get to play at Alki Beach, not only are you experiencing history, you’re also playing beach volleyball.

I know that’s not actually an appeal to most, if not all, of you, but I thought it was a fun fact and wanted to throw it in there. In all seriousness, this is a really cool beach. It reminds me a bit of Chicago’s Oak Street, actually, with an epic view of the city in the background. Here, though, you can see Seattle’s space needle, the Puget Sound, and Olympic Mountains.

It certainly wouldn’t be the worst selection for the AVP’s annual Pacific Northwest stop, which is typically held at nearby — and stunning — Lake Sammamish.

AVP Seattle-Billy Allen-Stafford Slick
Billy Allen, left, and Stafford Slick enjoy winning AVP Seattle/Mpu Dinani photo

West Virginia — Morgantown

Take me home, country roads, to the place I belong, West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home…to play beach volleyball?

There isn’t much beach volleyball in West Virginia, as you might expect. It’s all mountains and rural towns out there, the intersection of the Big 12, ACC, and Big 10 country, none of which are known to be beach volleyball powers. Evidently, there are a few courts in Morgantown, a cool mountain town that’s home to West Virginia University. Aside from that, beach is slim pickins in Wild and Wonderful West Virginia.

Wisconsin — Oshkosh

This might be the only state in the U.S. where I selected a man-made site over a natural beach. That would be Bradford Beach in Milwaukee, which hosted 19 professional tournaments, the most recent of which was a 2015 NVL won by Skylar McCoy and Mark Williams.

But Oshkosh won this one virtue of one of the best volleyball events on the calendar: The Waupaca Boatride. 

The beach volleyball portion of it is excellent, yes, but that’s hardly the only, or even main, appeal. The midwest loves grass volleyball, and Waupaca is known as the U.S. Open of Grass Volleyball, won this year by the magic act of Joe and Gage Worsley.

I know, I know, this is a beach volleyball list, and I already cheated with Pottstown in Pennsylvania, but Waupaca is too big to ignore here.

Bradford Beach is, rest assured, a wonderful place to play beach volleyball. It’s a huge, natural beach near a cool town with tons of tradition. If you’re looking for a couple games on a random trip to Wisconsin (in the summer, I hope), then that’s probably your spot.

If you’re only going to play beach volleyball one time in Wisconsin, however, it has to be at Waupaca.

Wyoming — Laramie

Wyoming is both the last state in the alphabet and the last one to get a nomination for this list. Coming in at the 11th hour is Laramie, Wyoming, which hosts an eight-week league over the summer, though if you’re looking for doubles, you may be out of luck. Teams need a minimum of four players and, kind of hilariously, a maximum of eight.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Love this, Travis! I will be saving this article for future reference. Was that Brooke Weitz from Seattle that you referred to at the beginning of the article? 😉
    Playing mostly in the Pacific Northwest, I completely agree with your choices for Washington and Oregon, but I would have to throw in Lake Coeur d’Alene for Idaho. It has stunning views and cool bars/restaurants near by. Thanks again for the info.

  2. We are humbled to be listed for Kansas City, Missouri. Have you heard of Volleyball Beach who has 8 of their courts covered by a dome during the winter months. The owner, Howard, is amazing. It is located right outside the city at Martin City, Missouri. It’s a great facility.

  3. Opening yourself up for a lot of criticism with this article. Picking “The Best” in anything is always subjective and usually just a conversation starter. To make it better you should at least have the top 3 sites. In NJ you picked Atlantic City which is a solid but questionable 1st. At least you mentioned some of the other top NJ sites. And I love that you mentioned the Big Shot Championships that I started in 1991.

    Your choice for NY is totally off. While Central Park is an iconic site it only has 2 courts and can be very elitist. You missed Long Beach and the rest of Long Island beaches which have done as much as anyplace on the east coast to build the sport at all levels. Long Beach alone has 72 courts that are filled every weeknight in the summer with 1500 players each night.

    Long Island has the longest continuous program run by the same person (EEVB since 1977) with programs for open level doubles down to recreational level coed 6 players. Combining with GAV events, this region gave the country Volley America (now AVP America), which is changing the sport in a positive way at the grass roots.

    My suggestion is to expand your article and add more info about more places to play in every state focusing on grass roots sites which is the foundation for continued growth if our sport. Not only do we need goods players for pro leagues and Olympic teams. We also need Dana that develop from grass roots programs.

  4. Nashville beach (located in Joelton) has been around for 30 years and is the reason why many people in the area even play beach volleyball!!! I wish it would have been mentioned. It’s an amazing paradise of 4 beach courts in the mountains.

  5. Love this idea and would like to offer a suggestion for Georgia – although I’m in agreement that Georgia State is the best spot to play. Rally Volleyball in Emerson, GA, is a fantastic place to get a game or two. White sand, 10 courts, lights and a large pavilion.

  6. KY King Louie’s in a landslide, come play the venues and experience the play of the courts before you make these acclimations based on??? website info…please… I like people at 6 Park don’t get me wrong, but to play there in the spring and fall the building shade of the sun makes it an unbearable side advantage, and if your are stuck playing inside in the hot KY summer, better be training in a suana or your not gonna last 15 pts…….King Louie’s has it all, well minus the mgt, but the venue is magistic, Joey Mac teaching the young ones is out of this world, and the court are pristine, if mgt would level then…but you can’t tell the commish anything, he still thinks the dirt, and its dirt, on its tents is from the California wild fires, which it a total joke in itself, and another reason why the mgt is trash…un pit the courts it about true beach level as you can get in land locked KY…

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